Kenya Wednesday to Friday Feb 21 - 23
Arrived on Wednesday evening in Nairobi, airport much improved since our last visit 4 years ago. It was chaotic then and we expected that it would take at least an hour or 90 minutes to get visas, get bags and clear customs but very well organized and smooth and within 30 minutes we were through the formalities and connecting with our driver and car. In the Serena Hotel in Nairobi for 2 nights to catch up on sleep and get rested for our time in the Masai Mara.
The Serena is one of our favourite hotels anywhere, right in the centre of Nairobi but surrounded by fairly extensive grounds so that it feels very lush and restful and very old Africa even though mad traffic is only metres away. Since we have arranged for a car and driver to drive us to our camp, about a 5 or 6 hour drive, we went for a walk into central Nairobi to buy wine. The hotel insisted that a staff person accompany us even though it was the middle of the day, we were not too concerned but our hotel guide told us that after sunset all the hotel staff take the bus at the stop in front of the hotel, no one willingly walks the downtown streets because of the danger of muggers. Our wine expedition was only possible because we are not flying, our total luggage limit is 15 kilos and my carry-on alone is close to that with cameras and equipment, so we have the luxury of loading the car with things that we normally would not be able to travel with.
I wrote the above yesterday, Thursday, we are now at our camp after a very long harrowing day driving over unpaved, rocky paths that pass for roads in the Kenyan countryside. Compounding this was the fact that our driver became hopelessly lost and we arrived after a bone-jarring 8 1/2 drive and to add insult to injury, we discovered that the hotel had forgotten to pack the wine in our car and 8 bottles of wine were still sitting in the hotel luggage room. Tears were shed, but after talking with the hotel in Nairobi they have agreed to fly the box of wine at their expense to the local safari airstrip and our camp will send a car to pick it up. We are holding our collective breaths...
In case you’re wondering, the point of driving rather than flying was not to transport wine but rather to take the opportunity to see the country and the landscape. We have usually flown to the various camps that we have visited and I really wanted to get a sense of the country and a drive seemed the perfect way to do it and in spite of the tooth-rattling driving conditions it was still very worthwhile to see the many changes in topography and vegetation and habitation and I’m pleased that we decided to do it. It was especially interesting and neat to drive across the Great Rift Valley on our way to the camp.
We went out this morning for our first safari drive, like old times beginning the day in the dark at 5:30 and on the road by 6. We are staying in an eco-camp in a small Conservancy near the Masi Mara National Park. The conservancy is owned by a number of the Masai people and the camp is staffed and run by them. It is near the Masai Mara Park and because it’s is small it does not have the number of animal species more or less resident in the property. However all the lands that are not National Park or a conservancy are used for grazing and the whole region is open country as there are no fences around any properties be they conservancy, private or national park. Because there are no fences animals move through and between our conservancy, other conservancies and the national park as well as over private grazing lands where they are legally allowed to move. Obviously this is grudgingly accepted but not encouraged by farmers and herders so that the animals tend to congregate in conservancies and the national parks where they are protected. High food chain animals, the carnivores, tend to need a fairly extensive range for their activities so that the smaller conservancies do not attract permanent habitation for the big cats for example except when they are moving through to another location and as a result smaller conservancies offer small pleasures, birds and the smaller species that may get overlooked in the range of options in the large national parks.
We are about a 25 minute drive from the Masai Mara National Park so that if we want big cats and big mammals we can pay to enter the park and spend the day, the downside being the number of cars that can congregate at a sighting, rush hour!, and if we want smaller pleasures, more personal attention and only one or two other cars, we can spend time in our conservancy. Our camp gives us the luxury of both options and since we will be here for 12 days we wanted the chance to balance our time. Our first morning was an enjoyable prelude, no big cats or elephants but a spectacular sunrise over the savannah and time spent with a couple of species that we had never seen, in particular the Rock Hyrax, a little marmotty creature that thrives in the tumbled rocky cliffs that characterize the property. Fabulous to spend time with and fun to watch.
This afternoon we will be driving over to the national park to spend the late afternoon.